BY CG REPORTER
Coffee cartels in Uganda are now using school going children to smuggle coffee across the Kenya Uganda border.
The racket involves point men from the vast Mt Elgon region and Bungoma West Sub County where coffee is grown on large scale.
The point men are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring coffee is taken to Uganda through the porous borders without the knowledge of the police and now use young school girls to transport the precious commodity.
The children sneak the coffee cherries to Uganda through the porous borders of Walanga, Kwachupu, Chepkube, Wasio and Lwakhakha.
It has also established that the coffee cherries are packed sacks and then on top its covered with Sukuma wiki or Irish potatoes so that the police cannot detect that the children are ferrying coffee to Uganda.
The girls who walk in groups of between two to five can be seen as early as 4.30am being dropped by the point men at Chepkube market before being picked by boda boda riders to different destinations along the border.
A 12 year old girl who sought anonymity said they take the coffee to Bumbo market in Uganda where it’s sorted and transported to Bugishu Cooperative Society for pulping. The cooperative society is in Mbale Uganda.
Cases of these girls being raped by the cartels have also been reported but the police have dismissed it as rumors.
Mt Elgon Maendeleo ya Wanawake chairperson lady Eunice Jepchumba said majority of the school girls have now dropped out of school and have ventured in coffee smuggling business to earn a living.
Ms Jepchumba said the parents of the girls are the ones who give consent to the cartels to ferry the coffee to Uganda and in return they get hefty kickbacks saying majority of the girls have dropped out of school.
“Last Friday a 12 year old girl from Chesiro primary school was defiled a man who has two wives when she coming from Uganda. She had been sent by her parents to sell coffee and on coming back at 7.00pm, the man hijacked him and spent the whole night with her. The girl is mentally challenged,” she said.
The suspect by the name Pius Wanyama has since escaped to Uganda but Cheptais Assistant County Commissioner James Namwamu promised to ensure he is arrested.
She said most farmers are using the young girls to ferry coffee across the border since the Uganda cartels pay them well saying a Kilo of coffee goes at sh80 but when they sell through the coffee societies in Kenya, they are given sh29.
Lwandanyi Coffee farmers Coordinator Job Butali said that it was a coffee harvesting season in the region saying the cartels and parents have hatched a scheme to use them in a bid to escape the full force of the law.
Mr Butali said the point men are paid Sh10, 000 per sack after delivering coffee to the cartels arguing that police should intensify their operations by arresting the girl and have the parents charged for child labour.
“If police can arrest the young girls when ferrying coffee, their parents will come to see them and in the event they can give information on the whereabouts of the cartels and the point men, “he said.
Cheptais OCS Hassan Godana confirmed that the cartels were using school girls to smuggle coffee along the border.
Mr Godana said they held a baraza with coffee farmers from the region at Kisongo where they agreed that the parents should stop using the children to earn a living on grounds that they are endangering their lives.
“We have intensified patrols and we are not taking this matter likely since Kenya is losing millions of shillings through the smuggling of coffee. This money is enough to fast track the growth of our economy,” he said.